Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Are all economists free-market purists?

Some of my fellow academics may think of economists as the right wingers on the faculty. A recent survey, however, suggests that most economists are moderates.

Is There a Free-Market Economist in the House? The Policy Views of American Economic Association Members

By Daniel B. Klein and Charlotta Stern

People often suppose or imply that free-market economists constitute a significant portion of all economists. We surveyed American Economic Association members and asked their views on 18 specific forms of government activism. We find that about 8 percent of AEA members can be considered supporters of free-market principles, and that less than 3 percent may be called strong supporters. The data is broken down by voting behavior (Democratic or Republican). Even the average Republican AEA member is middle-of-the-road, not free-market. We offer several possible explanations of the apparent difference between actual and attributed views.

According to the survey, the policy issues on which there is a particularly large divide between Democratic and Republican economists are the minimum wage, gun control, and redistribution. The issue of "tariffs to protect American industries" generates the strongest opinions overall; naturally, economists of both parties are opposed.

The paper considers several reasons why economists are often misperceived as free-market purists. Here is an excerpt:

Probably one of the most significant explanations for the erroneous free-market attribution is that almost all scholarly free-market supporters are economists. The center columns of Table 5 [actually Table 6] show that free-market supporters are practically non-existent in anthropology, history, political science, and sociology. There is a familiar heuristic bias of confusing a statement with its inverse. That is, if people perceive that every free market professor is an economist, they may slip into thinking that a preponderance of economists are free-market.
That sounds plausible to me.